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Study Links Processed Meat to Cancer

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
A man grocery shopping.

It’s no secret that processed foods aren’t the healthiest options for your diet, and processed meats are no exception. Since many of them contain dangerous chemicals that threaten health at the cellular level, they may, in fact, be one of the worst options. Living, raw foods trump meat every time, and the latest research is echoing this sentiment. According to a recent report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the International Agency for Research on Cancer, 22 experts from all over the world have concluded processed meat is a known human carcinogen.

The WHO Declares Meat a High Cancer Risk

A recently published analysis of over 800 studies by 22 nutrition experts has concluded that processed meat is a human carcinogen. [1] The analysis, published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, reports, “Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence…” According to the experts, 50 grams of daily processed meat consumption increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

These findings are not new. Research has long shown the disastrous health consequences of consuming chemical-laden foods, particularly meats. [2] [3] Processed meats are the highest concern because of their preservatives, additives, and flavor enhancers. Sodium nitrate is a common processed meat preservative that produces N-nitroso, a known carcinogenic compound. [4] Yet, this food additive is still allowed to permeate our food supply. Fortunately today, there are many nitrate-free options available; however, nixing this stuff altogether may be the best bet for your health.

A Deeper Look at the Research

Although meat has its issues, let’s take a deeper look at the research regarding meat and its link to cancer. Unfortunately, nutrition research is hardly ever conclusive, and establishing absolute certainty of cancer causality is almost impossible. Most processed meats contain chemical preservatives that prolong their shelf life. Some of these preservatives, like nitrates, are known probable human carcinogens. [5] Bacon, luncheon meats, hot dogs, and sausage are all known to contain this preservative. So, one has to wonder if it is indeed the meat that’s the issue or the chemical preservatives that are used profusely in the modern food industry?

Cooking method and temperature may also play a role in producing carcinogenic compounds. [6] That being said, meat may have more inherent health risks compared with raw, unprocessed plant-based foods. With the larger health potentialities associated with meat, you’d be better off with consuming a largely vegetarian diet. Plant foods contain more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants than meat anyway. Although many experts agree moderation is key, I’d go as far to say cut out processed meats altogether. Or, at least go the route of choosing preservative-free options whenever possible. This, along with increasing your vegetable, fruits, nuts, and seeds intake will surely create a greater nutrient intake balance.

Why You Should Avoid Meat

Meat doesn’t just pose a health threat, it’s also threatening our climate. While it does provide vitamin B12, a necessary nutrient, today there are so many more options to getting meat-based nutrients than ever before. Our liquid vitamin B12 is one example. Conventionally raised meat is injected with antibiotics and growth hormones, and the food many livestock eat is genetically modified and doused with pesticides. These factors affect the meat and impact the nutrition quality. If you’re on the fence, I suggest choosing a meat-free diet for one week just to see how you feel.

References (6)
  1. World Health Organization. IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  2. Inoue-Choi M, Sinha R, Gierach GL, Ward MH. Red and processed meat, nitrite, and heme iron intakes and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Int J Cancer. 2015 Oct 27. doi: 10.1002/ijc.29901.
  3. Nagle CM, Wilson LF, Hughes MC, et al. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to the consumption of red and processed meat. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2015 Oct;39(5):429-33. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12450
  4. Murali Kumarasamy, Panneerselvam Theivendren, Rousso Govindarajan, Scott G. Franzblau, and Kirthiga Ramalingam. Carcinogenic effects of N-nitroso-3-(substituted phenylimino)-indolin-2-one derivatives. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2012 Jul-Sep; 4(3): 207-211. doi: 10.4103/0975-7406.99035.
  5. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity: What Are the Health Effects from Exposure to Nitrates and Nitrites? ATSDR. Environmental Health and Medicine Education.
  6. Ngoan le T, Thu NT, Lua NT, et al. Cooking temperature, heat-generated carcinogens, and the risk of stomach and colorectal cancers. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2009 Jan-Mar;10(1):83-6.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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